Many kids are exposed to at least 4 hours of TV every dayeven if they aren't watching. Researchers did the study using phone interviews. They talked to 1,454 families. Each had at least one child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years. Children in the study were exposed to 4 hours of TV a day. Younger children were exposed to even more. So were African-American children and low-income children. Parents may think that having the TV on in the background is okay, even if they know that a lot of TV watching isn't good. Experts recommend no TV for kids under 2. They say that older kids should have no more than 2 hours a day of TV, computer and video game time. The background TV study was published in the journal Pediatrics. USA Today wrote about it October 1.
By Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Having the TV on in the background can be bad for kids. Heres why:
- It distracts them, causing them to not pay steady attention during playtime.
- It leads to lower quality interactions between them and their parents.
- It also distracts them from tasks that require them to think, such as homework.
So its very worrisome that a study just released in the journal Pediatrics shows that the average US child is exposed to 4 hours of background television on a typical day. Younger children (8 to 24 months) are exposed to 5 ½ hours. The kids who were most likely to have lots of background TV were kids who:
- Were African American
- Were part of a low-income family
- Lived with a single parent
- Had parents with less formal education
This is particularly bad, because studies have shown that kids in these groups already are more likely to have behavioral problems. They also are more likely to be overweight and watch a lot of TV (rather than just having it on in the background). Adding the risks of background TV is not good for them.
The authors didnt ask the families why they had the TV on in the background, but they suggested some explanations. They said that parents of very young children may put it on for entertainment for themselves, a way of coping with spending many hours with young children. They also said that even when parents know that TV viewing isnt good for children, they may not think that background TV countsand may think that kids dont understand what they see or that they arent affected by it. The problem is, they may very well understand or be affected by it, and in its own way it definitely counts.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
If you are a parent, guardian or caregiver of a child, do an honest assessment of your household TV habits. Thats the first and most important thing to do. Many families just dont realize how much the television is on. Ask yourself if you really need it to be on that much.
Dont leave the TV on if nobody is watching. You dont need it on anyway, and its not good for the kids.
If you have a TV in your childs bedroom, take it out. This increases your childs risk of exposure not only to background TV, but their risk of watching more TV than is good for them. It also interferes with sleep. This may not be a change that makes your kids happy, but its a change that is strongly recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Its understandable to get bored, or feel isolated, when you have small children. But turning on the TV may not be your best choice for dealing with this problem. Little children love to be played withtry it out. You may find it really fun. Do workouts with them (babies can make great free weights!). Bake cookies together, finger paint, dance and sing songs. Look into resources in your community; see if there are parent groups, parent drop-in centers or parent-child classes you can do together. Invite friends over. There are all sorts of alternatives to television.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
We are seeing increases in many of the problems associated with TV viewing, including obesity, behavioral problems (such as attention problems, poor social skills, and aggression) and school difficulties. If we dont make changes, we will see these increases continuewhich doesnt bode well for the future of our children.